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Farrell, Anthopoulos, Royle, And "Source": Irresponsible Journalism?

Jen Royle, a contributor for SB Nation Boston, sent out a controversial post on Twitter alleging a rift between John Farrell and Alex Anthopoulos, citing an anonymous source. In Minor Leaguer's opinion, it was irresponsible of her to not follow up with more evidence.

Brad White - Getty Images

On Sunday night, Jen Royle (@Jen_Royle) sent out this tweet that has now become the prime topic of discussion in Toronto:

For those of you who are unfamiliar with her, Ms Royle is an accomplished sports reporter (you can read about her accomplishments here) and is a fellow SB Nation colleague who writes for SB Nation Boston. She has accomplished a thousand times more in sports journalism than I ever will, but I feel that I must use this forum to respond to that tweet and the fallout that has ensued.

With Followers Comes Responsibility

Anyone who has worked with anyone else knows that every now and then there will be disagreements and friction in the relationship. Now perhaps what Ms Royle's "source" heard was some loud discussion between the two men. Perhaps he/she works with the Blue Jays front office every day and really knows what's going on. Perhaps the source is the spouse of someone in the front office. Perhaps the source is the janitor who sweeps outside Anthopoulos' office. Perhaps it is someone completely unrelated who just made up the story for personal gain. We just don't know.

Now, I understand the crucial need for journalists to protect their sources by keeping them anonymous. But what I feel Ms Royle should have done was to follow up her tweet with a full story immediately, explaining about what exactly she heard from her source. Did the source voluntarily go to her with this information? Was this part of a longer interview? How was this topic brought up? Was there any context that is missing from her 132-character message?

Sending out a tweet with such allegations without a subsequent follow up was irresponsible on Ms Royle's part. It is unfair to John Farrell, Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays, the Red Sox, and their fans to be put through such speculations. Frankly, it is unfair to every other writer on SB Nation. Ms Royle must remember that she is tweeting to her 6,200 followers as a professional sportswriter, representing a company with over 300 blogs, and that some people treat her as a credible authority on sports.

The Aftermath

Following that initial tweet came a bunch of others, mostly of Ms Royle responding to others on Twitter. She claimed that Toronto does not want prospects as compensation (later claiming that compensation would be "Dunno... Bard or prospects I assume," when she was asked about "serious clubhouse issues with [the] Jays," Ms Royle responded, "that's Toronto. He'll be fine in Boston," and that she has talked to people who said that Farrell "has support from good people." Were these her speculations, or were they all from the same "source" as the original tweet?

Later, someone tweeted, "Only thing worse is people who make up rumours to get the inevitable flood of page clicks. #jays fans are unbelievably gullible." To this, Ms Royle replied by saying, "Ohhh ok. So the text I just got from a GM I should just ignore? Ok. Next time I will." Wait--so her source is a Major League general manager? I think that was what she was implying with that response. If that were true, then why didn't she tweet it out to everyone? And the same thing with a tweet from this morning, where she claimed she had three other sources confirming. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Twitter, all tweets except from protected accounts are broadcaster publicly. If you follow someone, tweets that aren't directed to anyone are displayed on your "timeline," but those who are directed to a particular account are only sent to the recipient and anyone who follows both the sender and the recipient.)

It seems that she had quite the chat with a Major League general manager about this, but when asked a simple question on the nature of the friction--she was unable to answer. That is just incredible: she claims that her "source" didn't even know the nature of the friction, yet she felt it fitting to tweet a scoop from him/her without prior confirmation with other sources.

What is more concerning is that she seemed to completely miss the point of why Blue Jays fans were not happy, tweeting "Never imagined a fan base would get so mad about potentially getting compensated for a manager they don't even like. That was weird. #Jays" and "Dear Jays fans, I was only citing "sources" - a few to be exact. There's really no need to hammer the messenger. Much love from Boston." The Jays fans were probably angry that another sportscaster was making unsubstantiated assertions about their ballclub (see Amy K. Nelson and Peter Keating's "Signs of trouble in Toronto").

Remember my question regarding why there has been no follow up article? Ms Royle's answer to someone who questioned her on the same thing: "I write for SB Nation but I already wrote my column this week." Cop out? She could've easily phoned her editor and told him/her about this story--I'm sure if he/she evaluates it to be credible he/she would not have turned down the pageviews that would've arisen from it. Was there really absolutely no other outlet on the Internet for her to post her article?

Yes, some fans on Twitter were quite rude to her (see the next section below), but Ms Royle's responses were less than professional in some cases (see here, here, and here). There are a lot of people tweeting and commenting idiotic things on the Internet. A tip for online writers everywhere: just ignore them, don't take them too seriously, and most importantly, keep on the high road.

Sexist Attacks

Jen Royle was a victim of many sexist attacks on Twitter last night. She was called an "attention whore" by multiple tweeters, and someone even tweeted, "Reading @Jen_Royle's tweets is exactly why women are usually not respected as broadcasters and journalists in the sports world lol #idiot." I'm choosing to not link those tweets to their authors to not give them extra attention.

I am very sorry that Ms Royle had to see this crap thrown at her, and unfortunately she is not the only female sportswriter to have to endure this (some responses to Amy K. Nelson's "man in white" article were vile). I don't understand why some people feel the need to hurl insults at the people they disagree with. If there is a legitimate issue, then criticize away. Insults don't help with anything.

Burden Of Proof

I am not accusing Ms Royle of lying or her "sources" of making up the rumour. Because I don't have any evidence to back that claim. I am saying that it was irresponsible for Ms Royle to have put out this sort of tweet without backing it up immediately with a more substantial piece of writing containing further evidence. Claiming that she had already maxed out her weekly writing quota is not an excuse.

It is up to the journalist to convince the reader that what he/she is writing is the truth and the reader has every right to question the journalist over his/her sources and claims. We, as fans and bloggers, are not "hammering the messenger", as Jen Royle puts it, we are just asking for more proof to ensure journalistic integrity.